NORTHERN CALIFORNIA INDEPENDENT BOOKSELLERS ASSOCIATION

HOLT UNCENSORED #18
by Pat Holt

Friday, November 20, 1998

1. ADS TO GAG ON
2. INGRAM: WHAT YOU CAN DO
3. REMAINDERS OF THE DAY

1. ADS TO GAG ON

Heavens, the ongoing battle of self-indulgent advertisements and press releases between Amazon and Barnes & Noble is enough to make a person gag. I'M the David! No, YOU'RE the Goliath! I'VE got more titles! YOU'RE Mommy's favorite! Feed me! Clothe me! Love me! Pay my invoice! and so forth.

It's embarrassing and shameful to see the book industry, which once evoked images of literature and reading and informed discussion, now reduced to screaming fights and braggadocio ads and stomp-'em-whomp-'em takeovers, let alone new advertisements that are supposed to "bland" us into a buying stupor while they continue to "brand" us into - well, a buying stupor.

The worst came recently in two full-page New Yorker ads in which Amazon touted numbers (mall bookstore plus music store = 26,000 titles; Barnes & Noble plus Tower Records = 275,000 titles; Amazon books and CDs = 3 million titles). It's one of those kindergarten bar charts that insults the audience by pretending that the physical inventory of a mall store somehow compares with a data base online. But that's not the point.

The point is that Amazon then takes a full page ad to state coyly - you know it's coy because parentheses are used - "(selection is a good thing)." What a crock. Amazon DOES NOT SELECT, after all. Amazon simply WAREHOUSES IN CYBERSPACE.

A true selection by knowledgeable buyers who care about the customers they serve and want to help those customers find the books they seek can be found in independent stores and their websites. But fine: Let Amazon and Barnes & Noble goad each other to death in front of a disgusted public - if there's any such thing as reverse branding, that's the ticket.

2. INGRAM: WHAT YOU CAN DO

It shouldn't be true, but it is: The more people and ELECTED OFFICIALS who lean on the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Barnes & Noble's proposed purchase of the nation's largest book distributor, Ingram, the likelier it is that antitrust issues will be raised and the sale stopped.

"My father was a lobbyist," says Mike Barnard of Rakestraw Books in Danville, Calif. "He taught me the value of leaning on your congressional representatives so they'll lean on people like Janet Reno at the Department of Justice or Robert Pitofsky at the FTC." And what a way with words hath that Mike Barnard: You can stop "the purchase of the Ingram Book Group, the largest book distributor to independent bookstores, by Barnes & Noble, the largest predator of independent bookstores." Can't get any more succinct than that.

And bless him, Mike Bernard not only has names and addresses (email too), he has sample letters for people to copy (just lift 'em off the page!) and send - click on www.rakestrawbooks.com and follow the signs.

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